Friday, January 15, 2016

Review: NEW X-MEN #114

NEW X-MEN No. 114

[This review originally appeared on Patreon.]

STORY: Grant Morrison
PENCILS: Frank Quitely
INKS: Tim Townsend
COLORS: Brian Haberlin
LETTERS: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
COVER: Frank Quitely
32pp, Color, $2.25 U.S., $3.50 CAN (July 2001)

X-Men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

“E is for Extinction” Part One of Three

When Joe Quesada became Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, one of his first goals (apparently) was to make the company's flagship titles regain some of “their former glory.”  One of the franchises in need of some polishing was the X-Men, and Quesada recruited writer Grant Morrison, known for his work at DC Comics, to take the X-Men in a new direction.

Morrison took X-Men, the X-title that began in 1991.  Its title was changed to New X-Men, but retained the series numbering.  Thus, the new direction began with New X-Men #114, written by Morrison; drawn by Frank Quitely (pencils) and Tim Townsend (inks), colored by Brian Haberlin; and colored by Richard Starkings.

As New X-Men #114 (“E is for Extinction” One of Three) opens, Scott Summers/Cyclops and Logan/Wolverine are in the process of destroying a Sentinel, after saving a persecuted mutant, Ugly John, from the death machine.  Meanwhile, Professor Charles Xavier, a.k.a. “Professor X,” attacks his renewed mission to help a new generation of mutants with a sense of urgency that can also be described as an episode of mania.

Jean Grey is trying to assist him, and so is Henry “Hank” McCoy a.k.a. “Beast.”  However, each has his or her own issues.  Jean and Scott's relationship is in a difficult state.  Hank has undergone a shocking “secondary” mutation that sometimes physically complicates his ability to be a super-scientist.  What the X-Men do not realize is that a new enemy has arisen from seemingly nowhere, and she wants to launch a campaign of genocide against all of mutantkind.

As a kid, I read most of my comic books so many times that they practically fell apart.  As an adult, the only comic books that I read repeatedly were Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, The Sandman, and anything by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Will Eisner.  I also often re-read works of alternative comix creators like Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, and R. Crumb, to new a few.  Everything else was one-and-done.

I must admit, however, that I have lost track of how many times I have read the New X-Men story arc, “E is for Extinction,” especially “Part One” in New X-Men #114.  I think that the reason is because no matter when I read it, this story arc feels fresh and ground-breaking.  New X-Men # 114 especially seems new and an exhilarating; it is as if by reading it I find myself on the cusp of a revolution.

Well, New X-Men ended up being only “kind of a revolution.”  The rest of Grant Morrison's run on this series was never as explosive and “begin-with-a-bang” as “E is for Extinction,” mostly because this first story arc was so different from anything an X-Men comic book had ever been.  It was as if there were a decades' worth of advancement between New X-Men #114 and the two decades of X-Men comic books that had come before it.

Also, I find that Morrison's best work on an established comic book series is usually his first 12 issues, as was the case here.  After the first year, Morrison's work on established series or characters turns weird or contrived, although that weirdness is usually still better than most other comic books coming out at the same time.

It also did not help that Frank Quitely was incapable of keeping up a monthly schedule, so that the first two years of Morrison's run on New X-Men is a patchwork of inconsistent art styles, some of them ugly and some of them being an ill fit with Morrison's storytelling.  It seemed as if Quitely was the only artist who could make Morrison's New X-Men stories seem truly revolution.

Another thing that I have to admit is that I had and still have mixed feelings about the villain, Cassandra Nova, who turns out to be some kind of sibling to Professor X.  I think a better choice for “E is for Extinction” villain would have been either an obscure X-Men villain from the distant past or an obscure Marvel character reconstructed or “retconned” into being a mutant.  The entire subplot slash narrative angle involving Cassandra and Professor X is almost a bridge too far for me.

Still, even with my complaints, I think that New X-Men #114 is one of the all-time great single issues ever published in American comic books, so I am going to read it again.  In fact, I am going to find other individual New X-Men back issues (especially the Quitely-drawn ones) so that I can enjoy Grant Morrison's “revolution” of the X-Men.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaus

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